Media freedom and pluralism in Romania

May 11, 2016 / By Christine Leşcu, Radio Romania International

Every year, in early May, we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, an event that provides an opportunity to measure to what extent journalists’ rights and freedom of speech are observed. The Media Pluralism Monitor, developed and funded by the European Commission and the European Parliament, is one such measurement tool. The report looks at case studies from the 19 member countries covered by the analysis, and is aimed at identifying potential threats to media freedom in the European Union.

Four big risk areas are examined: basic protection, media pluralism, political independence and social inclusion. The indicators used to measure the threats to “basic protection” are freedom of speech, the observance of the right of access to public information, journalistic standards and independence from national authorities. As regards “political independence”, the report looks at political control over media channels and broadcasting networks and the degree of independence in funding public media institutions.

The general conclusion is that the only field where the risks are low is basic protection in the media, and the risks for the other fields are average at European level. Still, against this background, Romania is faced with an average risk in all four main fields. Moreover, the basic protection indicators place Romania on a unique position, as Adina Marincea, a researcher with Media Research Centre has told us. Media Research Centre is the institution that has drawn up the country report for Romania:

“Out of the 19 countries analysed, Romania is the only one facing an average risk when it comes to basic protection and observing journalistic standards. Among the most pressing issues that we have identified, and which journalists in Romania have to deal with, especially in the printed press, is the precarious economic situation. This translates into situations in which the payment of salaries is delayed and unreliable, in job insecurity, salary cuts and employment contracts for short periods of time, which ensure little social protection against unemployment. At the same time, these contracts make it easier for employers to sack journalists.”

This precarious economic situation is sometimes closely linked with the interests of the employer, which do not always coincide with the standards of the profession, as journalist Petrisor Obae, the coordinator of the paginademedia.ro website has told us:

“The problems in the Romanian media are two-fold. First of all, at a macro level, owners and employers in the media have realised that the media can be a powerful toy that can be used to advance their own personal interests. To this adds the economic pressure. Secondly, at the micro level, that of journalists themselves, there are many who simply don’t know how to write and do research and who are not familiar with the basic rules of their profession. Social problems also play a role and they are used by employers to their advantage. When journalists’ basic needs are not satisfied and they have to worry about putting food on the table, they will naturally be more likely to ignore the ethics of their profession, a notion which is already becoming obsolete.”

In fact, one of the issues identified by the report on media pluralism in Europe concerns the observance of professional standards, in particular by the private media, which accounts for the biggest share in the media sector. Here is Adina Marincea again:

“Journalistic standards and codes are often non-existent, they are not observed or are drawn up by employers and managers, not by journalists or professional associations. All these factors interfere with the editorial content and there have been many accusations of illegal funding of the media by various economic and political players, and even of journalistic censorship.”

Speaking about interference and censorship, we inevitably approach another field, namely political independence. Adina Marincea has more:

“When speaking about political independence, there are two indicators that usually draw alarm signals. Similar cases have been reported in Slovakia, Slovenia and Lithuania.”

The fact that part of the media, especially the private media, has become excessively politicised in order to protect employers’ interests, including their economic ones, is the conclusion of another study, the FreeEx report, drawn up by the ActiveWatch NGO. The report presents situations in which employers pressure journalists into not publishing certain articles that could affect the image of some political figures or disclose their abuses. There are cases of journalists who, because they dared publish such materials, were ‘punished’ by having their collaboration contracts terminated. Also, there are cases of local mayors who used the local media to blackmail their political opponents. To Razvan Martin, political and economic dependence is also caused by the bad financial situation that has not improved at all for some media companies. Razvan Martin:

“Being very vulnerable from an economic point of view, some media outlets are vulnerable to pressure from certain politicians or various financiers. However, I’m not convinced that a better economic situation of certain media outlets or periodicals would make them less vulnerable to certain influences. I’m afraid that their reason of being is to play such political games and not to inform the public or to obtain a legitimate economic profit. I’m referring to the most visible, mainstream media outlets, the TV news channels, focusing on the public agenda. But I don’t want to generalise because there are still very many honest journalists and quite honourable media institutions. There are media platforms producing quality journalism, online in particular.”

Having a different economic and editorial situation, the two public broadcasting institutions, the Romanian Television and the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation have been confronted with problems too in the past year, according to the FreeEx Report on the Media Freedom in Romania. Razvan Martin:

“The public radio is doing OK from an economic point of view, but there were problems there too related to a campaign against an otherwise legitimate bill to amend the public broadcasting law. There is even a summons by the National Audiovisual Council warning that airtime was abusively used to attack this bill. The Romanian Television is on the verge of collapse having accumulated huge debts and politicians do not appear interesting in addressing the situation.”

Recently, Parliament has appointed by vote a new President and Director General at the Romanian Television.

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